3 Generations After The End: View From The Bottom Of Greybar City

The following text was found encrypted with ROT13, hidden in a file tagged “Corrupt Image File”. It has the latest date of the 317 files in the directory, each containing a similar block of hidden and encrypted text.

It’s all coming to a head. I can feel it. It’s only a matter of time before the Keepers switch from masters to slaves, and now it’s closer than ever. I know the Free Data Movement take a look at any new file that comes online. I only hope they’re bright enough to find and read this. I used some skills from the pre-disaster days when I was a total digit head so I could hide my journal, but I kept it simple. When the Keepers didn’t haul me in for treason, I figured they missed these files. Corrupt data is pretty common and there’s no sense scrutinizing every little thing, is there?

I’m an old man who wants to set the record straight about Greybar City before I shuffle off or they take me to Cybernetics to put my brain in one of the Pax bodies.

Let’s talk about life in the big city. The Keepers run everything. They control the entertainment, the food, the medical establishment, access to the data cached from when there was an Internet that they’ve been bastardizing, and all high-tech development. The rest of us go on like sheep, serving our role as proletariat laborers. If one of us gets a great idea, we’re asked to join the Keepers. But here’s the thing: If you join them, that’ll be the last original idea you have. I don’t know what they do for the initiation ceremony or what they cut out of your brain when they attach that infernal metal box to the back of your head, but Keepers are convinced that all the answers already exist online if only they’re diligent enough to find them. Like Internet data came from the heavens to enlighten the world, but only the Keepers have the implanted interface to truly appreciate the scope of the data.

And yet they don’t bother looking at subversive messages hiding in corrupt image files.

I dodged a bullet when they asked me to join. I came up with an idea, but I convinced them it wasn’t me. They tapped a friend of mine, and when I saw him the next year he remembered me. He said he was happy, but he was completely different. He didn’t even think the same way any more. He asked me to join, and I just couldn’t. I like the way I think. So I resolved to keep my head down and do what was required in as unremarkable a way as I could manage. And that’s when I discovered the Free Data Movement.

I worked in the Food Mines for years. The Keepers maintain two sub-levels of hydroponic gardens and livestock genetics labs under the city. The vat-grown flesh experiments turn my stomach, but that’s the tasty meat that keeps the city fed and docile. I swore it off after I saw how it was made. There are more sub-levels under those two, and I saw a guy with a yellow star who looked like he owned the place coming out of an access stairway right behind one of the Pax one time. The Keepers don’t have the manpower to develop and use the lower levels, which is why they’re so keen on recruiting new citizens. They send Pax patrols down there to make sure nobody has moved in. I learned that the Free Data Movement can somehow control the Pax, so it makes an ideal base of operations for them. There are plenty of secret entrances and no other humans go down there.

The Pax are the Keepers’ hole card, an army of perfected robot soldiers who obey without question or hesitation. People say the Pax are built from people, but that’s just rumor. Every once in a while some of them seem to recognize something and act strangely, so maybe that’s not far off. The Keepers read about Nuclear Deterrence, and they’ve been using that doctrine for the past 60 years to hold the wolves at bay outside the city walls. Combat robots don’t feel pain. They’re pinpoint accurate, and their pulse lasers recharge to full given time. But usually one well-placed shot from a click away tends to end fights before they begin. Once in a while a Wizard gets uppity and takes one out before he falls, but that’s been rare. The Keepers trusted the Pax so much that they turned over all security responsibilites to the Pax. Now they can concentrate on finding the truth at the bottom of the pile of data in their heads.

The Free Data Movement hacked the Keepers’ interface a while ago. They’re listening in on everything the Keepers do. I’m not sure if they hacked the Pax or if they just worked out a deal somehow, but I’ve never seen a Pax attack a member of the Movement. According to the subversive propaganda that sometimes interrupts the entertainment shows, new data comes in at random intervals. It looks like there’s some sort of intermittent connection to other sites in other cities. The Keepers think it’s The Word Of God, so they’re overjoyed when new data comes in. The Movement is more pragmatic. They learned about computers the same way I did – hacking and experimentation. I think they’ve got the right idea, but they have no idea how to run a government. They’re specialists, not leaders or even team players. So they’re great for throwing monkey wrenches around, but I fear they’ll take over and the whole city will come crumbling down.

Not that the Keepers are too far off from total meltdown either. It’s a hard world now. The Pax keeps the raiders at bay, but the infrastructure itself is threatening to implode. Gathering genetic material from banished citizens is mostly for show now since they don’t have a working genetic scanner any more. Recycling Is Mandatory, but that only gets us so far. We still need new things to fill the holes left be raids and theft and the passage of time. The Keepers have been ranging farther and farther afield, desperately searching for more technology they can salvage to keep their machines running. I hear they’ve left the valley a couple of times, but they keep absolutely clear of the forests. All their defensive and curative gadgets and they’re afraid of goblins in the woods. Maybe their dogma makes them believe in the Tooth Fairy too.

Food production is always a tricky thing. They’ve tried to move some of the fields outside, but the Pax couldn’t stop the sheer number of raiders in an unfortified field. We lost a field’s worth of seed cord that year and more than a few good people. We’ve got enough for now, and the synthesized spices can make feces taste gourmet, but who knows how long until one of the experiments takes out a whole field. Nobody thinks about the risks involved in what we’re doing every day just to survive.

And that’s my big problem with the Keepers and the Syrinx Corporation they represent. Everybody listens sympathetically, and everybody wants a better place to call home. Some people have great ideas, but once the Keepers give you the implant you start navel-gazing and sifting through data looking for the secret of life. Data acts like a narcotic, and when it’s in your head all the time nothing else matters quite as much. The Keepers get a non-stop information buffet to keep them complacent. The Keepers in turn provide a constant stream of bread and circuses for the masses, and the people stuff their mouths too full to question their self-appointed leaders. So who’s at the top reaping the fruits of this docile society?

If the Keepers and the Free Data Movement ever decided to listen to each other, Greybar City would actually become the beacon of hope in a dark world that the brochures want you to believe. We’d be able to use the Keepers’ archived data as a starting point for innovation instead of an ending point of religious intolerance. We could reinvent the world and get humanity connected again. We could all pull together toward a better life for our children and their children. But I doubt that will ever happen. The Movement wants a say, and the Keepers only hear the data from before the cataclysm echoing in their heads. The Movement keeps grabbing for attention through thievery and vandalism, while the Keepers fight back the chaos without ever analyzing what the city really needs. Both sides butt heads because they always have. And that stupidity will get us all killed one day.

So welcome to Greybar City. It’s crappy, but it’s a far sight better that your alternatives.

Good luck out there.

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